Canon Fire!

Film canons in the Philippines are recent enough so that some elderly Filipinos might be able to remember a time when none had been available. As far as anyone can tell, the first local film canons were, perhaps unintentionally, initiated by award-giving institutions—and so the most well-known ones are still those created and propagated by local academies, organizations, and festivals.

11011Are canons then synonymous with the lists of winners selected by award-giving bodies? Put another way, when an award-giving body is formed, do its jurors envision their selections as “best” choices, not just of the period in question—whether festival, quarter, year, decade, etc.—but also among all other possible all-time choices? As a rule, yes, although there may be significant exceptions: for one, the awards bodies that never persisted long enough to make a long-term impact; and for another, the canons drawn up by individuals and more recently, groups provisionally formed by these individuals.

11011As concrete historical examples, we can point to lost classics—in ancient Greek drama, especially—that we now only remember because they were considered worthy of formal recognition during their time. Sadly, this is reminiscent of how a number of Filipino films can only be recollected but never screened again, because of how they were celebrated during their time, whether via rave reviews or through awards. Also, in the present, we have the spectacle of winners of different awards claiming that their specific awards are better than those won by others, similar to how graduates of certain schools claim to be superior to the alumni of other schools by virtue of their association with their own institutions.

11011Hence if we were to inspect the strengths and weaknesses of film canons, we should begin by looking at film awards. As a distinctly modern phenomenon, film activity bears with it the contemporary notion of awards. Most people who look closely at both phenomena (films and awards) might be unaware of the fact that the first awards acknowledged as modern arrived almost at the same time that films emerged. James F. English, in his in-depth sociological study published in 2005 by Harvard University Press, The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards, and the Circulation of Cultural Value, traces the idea of the contemporary award—as opposed to classical prizes—to the Nobel Prize, introduced during the late 19th century, when film was also striving to create its now-permanent long-term impact.

11011A few other insights in J. F. English’s book might help us better understand the condition of film awards, and what we might call the institutional film canon, in the Philippines. For one thing, “prestige,” as we understand it nowadays, often functions ironically. During the Cold War era (roughly the 1950s through the 1980s), people could still believe in the authority of institutions; evidence of irregularities in, say, the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards were aberrations that could be corrected internally—as in 1974-75 as well as in recent years, when critics and academics were invited to conduct the awards process—or externally, when critics formed their own organization in 1976 as a counterweight to the older institution. Nowadays, when we think of the most highly coveted global awards—the Oscars, the A-list European festivals of Cannes, Berlin, and Venice, even (to step outside of film) the Magsaysay, Pulitzer, Booker, or Nobel prizes—controversy tends to be associated with these institutions’ decisions so often that it becomes the rule more than the exception. J. F. English, in fact, winds up concluding that “the most prestigious awards draw the most intensely critical sniping,” something that any close observer of Filipino movie prize-giving will readily recognize.

11011Another fraught question might appear to be a recent development for us, although it has long become a matter of course for Western countries: the proliferation of award-giving bodies. The primary reason why the number of award-givers stabilized for a long while in the Philippines is the same reason that production of quality film projects also stabilized: while more films may have been produced during the 1960s, the ratio of prestige productions to total output was far lower than during the martial-law regime. Precisely, and ironically, because of the authoritarian intervention by the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, film’s status as a favored medium was cemented. Permits for new projects would be granted only upon presentation of written screenplays, thus requiring the services of some of the country’s best writers, and the scandalous proliferation of award-giving bodies could be discouraged. As an example, during that period, schisms in government bodies, notably within the local film academy, were carefully mediated by the presidential daughter, Ma. Imelda (Imee) R. Marcos. Her father would eventually consolidate her influence in her capacity as Director-General of the industry’s support group, the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. How the state of existing Philippine film awards contended with dictatorial influence should be worth a close recounting.

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Academic Controversies

The main focus of local award-giving controversy was the aforementioned FAMAS, which was evidently falling under the sway of too-influential producers and actors. For its first decade of existence, its choices could be counted on as the result of careful comparative assessment, regardless of the status of its nominees within the industry or in society and politics. Gerardo de Leon was a consistent awardee, with his Daigdig ng mga Api (World of the Oppressed) even defeating the biographical movie of the newly elected President, Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story (Determined by Destiny, dir. Conrado Conde, Jose de Villa, and Mar S. Torres), for the 1965 competition. By the time Marcos ran for re-election, the tables had been reversed: Pinagbuklod ng Langit (Heaven’s Fate, 1969, dir. Eddie Garcia), the sequel to Iginuhit ng Tadhana, bypassed at least one superior canonical title, Leroy Salvador’s Badlis sa Kinabuhi (Course of Life, 1968, released in Manila in 1969). The next year, Armando de Guzman’s Mga Anghel na Walang Langit (Angels without a Heaven, produced and written by a future presidential candidate, Fernando Poe Jr. or FPJ), won over three of Lino Brocka’s early films, specifically Wanted: Perfect Mother (his blockbuster debut), Santiago! (his major-budget FPJ starrer), and Tubog sa Ginto (Gold-Plated, included in the present canon listing). The year after, Gerardo de Leon’s less-than-competent Lilet defeated Celso Ad. Castillo’s Asedillo, while Ishmael Bernal’s Pagdating sa Dulo (Reaching the Top) was not even a best-film nominee. Incidentally, the Salvador, Castillo, and Bernal “loser” films are also included in the current listing.

11011Hence for the then-approaching mid-1970s years, the FAMAS strove to recover its lost credibility by relinquishing its awards decisions to media experts, with Gloria D. Feliciano, the founding Dean of the University of the Philippines’s College of Mass Communication (then an institute) acting as chair of its board of jurors. These years coincided with Brocka’s independently produced sleeper hit, Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Weighed but Found Wanting, 1974), as well as his most widely acclaimed production, Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila: In the Claws of Light, 1975), both of which swept the prizes during their respective years. The recovery of the FAMAS’s reputation was short-lived, however. In 1976, a few members of its “credible” jurors formed the first local film critics’ circle, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino, implicitly continuing its members’ occasionally explicit critiquing of the FAMAS, but this time as an independent outfit competing for public attention by conducting its own award-giving activities.

11011The FAMAS’s travails did not end just yet. By the start of the 1980s, an actual Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) comprising workers’ guilds was founded by presidential decree and mandated to hand out awards selected by the guild members themselves, again as a corrective to the FAMAS claim that it constituted, per its name, an “academy,” when in fact it had mainly comprised movie writers, including scriptwriters and reporters, rather than filmmakers, performers, and technicians. A year after the FAP’s first awards (covering 1983), the Philippine Movie Press Club announced its Star Awards in two events, one for film and another for television. Thus all the claims of the FAMAS—that it was an academy, that its members were capable of criticism, that these same members were movie press practitioners—were contested by the emergence of various groups that arrogated these functions unto themselves, one by one.

11011The most direct challenge, the formation of the FAP—which carried the term “academy” in its name, just like the FAMAS—was overseen by the eldest Marcos daughter Imee, who was preparing to wrest control of the still-to-be-launched Experimental Cinema of the Philippines away from her mother, Imelda.[1] To minimize the tension between the two award-giving groups, Imee declared that the FAMAS would have to be dissolved to make way for the FAP. Only the intervention of the FAMAS multiple winners, led by Joseph Estrada, then the powerful mayor of San Juan City, resulted in the anomaly of having two “academy” awards in the same year.

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Canons to the Left and Right

With the ouster of the Marcoses after the people-power uprising in 1986, critical film activity underwent a ferment that replicated the several developments that it realized in Western academia. Several now-forgotten local debates raged regarding the function and value of film and other critical discourses in popular culture; inevitably, a few breakaway groups comprising former and would-have-been members of the original film critics’ circle, the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (MPP), were founded. Personal disclosure, part 1: I was involved with all the organized critics’ groups.

11011Hence after the academy, the critics were the film participants contending with one another for visibility in the national culture. A difference, however, has to be pointed out: in the case of the FAP vs. the FAMAS, only one group, the former, was technically an academy. In the case of the MPP and its breakaway group, the Young Critics Circle, most members of either group could be considered practicing critics at best, inactive dilettantes at worst. In terms of my personal experience, the challenge was to reconcile the advantage of organizing with colleagues with the requisite of conducting responsible and effective criticism. In 1990, I and a colleague, Mauro Feria Tumbocon, Jr. (currently the festival director of the Filipino Arts & Cinema International or FACINE, the most successful Filipino-American annual film event), contacted other active film critics who shared our differences with the MPP, in order to found the YCC.

11011In short order, further differences arose within the new group, this time regarding ideology and strategy: do we reject the task of providing intermediate (though limited) educational lessons in favor of complete and radical deconstruction?[2] As a concrete example, if we know that creating canons like the present Top-100+ listing might be a futile, potentially misleading, and necessarily open-ended exercise, should we skip this stage and proceed with reading films for their radical cultural-studies value, without worrying about their contribution to a discourse of significance and excellence? This would mean opting for critical exercises, the more intensive the better, leading whenever possible to book-length or multivolume scholarship. Another way of stating this is: when we begin with the basic, immediate critical response to a new movie (called the film review), we may push it in the direction of further critique-based activity: film criticism, scholarship, long-term studies, etc., instead of consumerist recommendations. This is meant to challenge the present direction of most institutional reviewing, which leads to periodic assessments, ending with annual awards results, sometimes extended with longer-period declarations like best of the decade, best of the quarter-century, etc.—until we reach something like the present exercise, which is best of all time. My personal position was, and remains, that both options are not necessarily in conflict with each other, although then again, critics who are organized will find themselves having to uphold one at the expense of the other.

11011After helping found still another critics’ group called Kritika, I found my next direction determined by circumstance: I had to leave for foreign graduate studies, while the other members similarly found themselves having to take overseas trips for similar or related reasons. Since then I’ve written about further disturbing trends in award-giving groups, notably the MPP’s consistent abandonment of providing critical output coupled with its current tendency to recruit new members mainly from the media and communication programs of the country’s major academic institutions. This strategy has apparently ensured that the group’s orthodox orientation—where film is regarded as a technical challenge whose form may be evaluated according to discrete categories—can be maintained in educational programs and will continue to enhance and promote the group’s annual award-giving agenda.[3] Hopes for the emergence of dissent with the MPP’s current hegemony lie in the recent proliferation of unaffiliated, though occasionally also inadequately prepared, blogger-critics. The period after the 1980s had seen similar breakaway attempts within the industry and movie press circles, but an even bigger motive for the formation of more award-giving bodies was to emerge after the present millennium arrived.

11011The turning point for film criticism was provided by the sudden technological transition in film production, from exceedingly expensive celluloid to the extraordinarily democratic (because affordable) digital format—including its outlet, the World Wide Web. Seemingly overnight, anyone who wanted to create a movie did not have to shell out millions and arrange for studio-controlled distribution, waiting for decades while slaving away at menial production tasks for just this kind of break; merely whipping out, say, a mobile phone, finalizing the file on a computer, and posting the result on YouTube would suffice to complete the process.

11011This revolution in technology may be qualified because it actually strengthened the position of certain companies and countries and government-surveillance agencies: it provided profits for manufacturers of miniaturized technologies and owners of successful websites; it ensured Western dominance while redefining the global sphere of development to include East Asia; and it enabled security-conscious countries led by the US to eavesdrop into the private affairs of local and even foreign citizens. Nevertheless, several once-near-impossible functions became everyday activities: not just in terms of media production, as already mentioned, but also in the realm of media consumption. For the Philippines, the crucial stepping-stone was the so-called illegal piracy-disc sales center, wonderfully dubbed (by scholar Jasmine Nadua Trice, among others) the Quiapo Cinematheque and defended by every major filmmaker and scholar who had closely studied the situation and who was not receiving some form of largesse from government bodies influenced or pressured by the US’s International Intellectual Property Alliance.

11011Via the Quiapo Cinematheque’s “pirated”—or, from the perspective of cultural education, fairly priced—discs, and later via internet outlets including YouTube, observers of Philippine cinema could gain increasing access to movies from most historical periods, as long as they could understand the language(s) being spoken and forgive uneven surface qualities. Not surprisingly, several blogs that specialized in film commentaries sprouted during the past couple of decades—and here is where the idea of the canon took its latest and, as always, still-controversial turn.

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Scattered Shots

Although the organized, award-giving critics maintained their own websites—an example followed by other award-giving institutions—individual bloggers had the advantage of maintaining independence from the ideological pressures that organizations impose, overtly or otherwise, on their members. More important, by having their own ready outlets, they had the means to maintain steady, even voluminous, output, according to how the spirit of commentary moved them.

11011Hence although the organized groups continued their annual declarations, the new, decidedly more numerous online critics managed to out-perform their career predecessors in terms of critical output, albeit with far less media fanfare. Individual top-round-number listings, from ten to a hundred, started appearing, and at least three enterprising internet and social-network aggregators announced and conducted extensive surveys. Two of these were completed, one for the Facebook Cinephiles! group and another for the Pinoy Rebyu group blog, both in 2013. The Cinephiles! “Top 100 Favorite Films Poll” included foreign films, with only nine local titles figuring in the total, and the highest, Mike de Leon’s Bayaning 3rd World (Third World Hero, 2000), ranked 22nd. Pinoy Rebyu’s “100 Greatest Pinoy Films of All Time” focused exclusively on Filipino movies, including documentaries, but included already-unavailable choices such as Manuel Conde’s Juan Tamad Goes to Congress and Gerardo de Leon’s Huwag Mo Akong Limutin (Forget Me Not), both 1960 releases. Both provided ranked listings from 1st to 100th, with the Pinoy Rebyu’s first half (1 to 50) accentuated by short paragraphic citations.

11011Although late in monitoring social network activity—forced into it, in fact, by a cyberculture teaching assignment—I managed to observe this peak in internet-based canon-forming frenzy. Personal disclosure, part 2: both surveys acknowledged the groundwork I laid in my earlier stint as resident film critic in National Midweek, with the output, titled “Ten Best Filipino Films Up to 1990,” anthologized in my second volume, Fields of Vision: Critical Applications in Recent Philippine Cinema (published in 1995 by the Ateneo de Manila University Press), and the updated version posted on my archival blog, Amauteurish. The original National Midweek exercise was a survey of local critics and practitioners that I and my students conducted, in which the respondents were asked to submit their list of ten-best films, with the results tabulated and fine-tuned to yield variations on canonical presentations: films most cited as number one, films most cited regardless of ranking, and films most cited according to ranking provided by the respondents.[4]

11011Even that early, for the “ten-best” activity, I already noted certain problems. For one thing, although the number of respondents was the largest in any film survey up to that point (1990), their individual competence could not be determined. I had planned a second phase—which unfortunately did not materialize due to lack of time—where the complete list of all films cited would be returned to the respondents, who would then be asked to indicate which ones they had seen and rank those further, as assiduously as they could. For another thing, the results were not generated according to a group consensus facilitated by exchanges of opinions and ideas; consequently, no justification (in the form of citations or mini-reviews) could be articulated for the specific films that showed up in the results.

11011The most serious lack, to my mind, was the absence of the only useful guarantee I could make about comparative film evaluations: despite the differences between me and the MPP that eventually proved irreconcilable, I managed to pick up a lesson that has proved to be the surest means of determining comparative value. That is, in an instance when two films appear to have equally strong value, repeated viewings will almost always lead to a point where the evaluator can rationalize, however provisionally, the preference for one over the other. Having outlasted the conflictive period I mentioned, when critics with opposed ideological opinions insisted on the correctness of their pet theories, the practice of rescreening films—or, in a larger cultural sense, resampling entries—has turned out to be a far more reliable measure of a text’s worth than conformity to any predetermined framework.

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From this critique of the ten-best exercise I conducted, applicable to the other, more recent exercises as well, I managed to formulate a more ideal form of canon-formation: convene a group committed to the project, instead of listing survey respondents who might be unfamiliar with one another and who would be contacted only a few times; source all available films, using pre-existing canons (i.e., awards listings or surveys) as well as strong word-of-mouth recommendations; watch the films, rewatching those that appear to have so-far indeterminate value, especially when it comes to filling out the remaining slots in a fixed-number list—and be prepared to be flexible about “fixing” the said number; conduct informed deliberations about what films should be preferred and why; list the films without bringing up the further and ultimately frustrating hair-splitting complication of ranking them relative to one another; and articulate, to the best of one’s critical ability, why each specific film was selected.

11011I would have preferred a less-definite, or more mutable, set of guidelines that allow for no limits in terms of year of release and running time and total number of choices—as in, far less or far greater than the target number (over one hundred, in this case), depending on how the finalization of the list turns out. The digital era might make this wider goal easier to accomplish, particularly through the use of a periodically updated website where the results may be uploaded for further future revisions. But for purposes of setting the results of the project in a commemorative volume, more constrictive rules will always be more useful … as long as the project’s proponents foreground enough humility to admit to every possible limitation and commit to any opportunity to do better in future. At this point, for example, I could point out one major advantage in having a for-now “final” canon, rather than relying on the annual critics’ choices that I mentioned earlier: if we arrange the films chronologically, we would notice that “excellent” films do not get released once every year, the way that an annual awards listing would suggest. Rather, noteworthy projects tend to cluster during certain periods, and the talents and audiences that support these projects also subsequently tend to take time off to recuperate, usually after a wearying spell of excessive seriousness or box-office traumas.

11011Hence it would make more sense for any recognition body to note each “deserving” title as it comes along, rather than forcibly compiling a list of, say, five nominees and declaring one of them the year’s only possible winner. Like all the other canonical listings before it, the current listing suggests that certain years might have no release worthy of attention, although most years may yield maybe one or two, and a few fortunate years have gifted the culture with armloads of works to cherish. Given this reality, why should we insist that audiences keep focusing on always-only one “best” film every year, when the honest thing to do would be to admit that the award-givers might need annual public attention in order to, among other things, collect on the publicity benefits of awards ceremonies?

11011Any enthusiast would not find it difficult to locate starting points for future attempts that might seek to improve on the present canon project, although attempting a coverage of expanded canons might take far longer than the five-plus years it took for the present project to be finalized. Short films can be sourced from the early workshop output of the Mowelfund Film Institute[5] and the thesis projects of the country’s film-degree programs: the University of the Philippines Film Institute’s, De La Salle—College of Saint Benilde’s, and University of San Carlos’s in Cebu City. A documentary collection can be compiled from the output of the now-defunct Asia Visions, featuring the works of the now-forgotten Lito Tiongson; the several film-producing non-government organizations—Ditsi Carolino and Sari Dalena would be the names to start with; and the outstanding TV magazine programs, specifically the output of Howie Severino’s I-Witness (2008-14). Television itself promises to be a gold mine—or a mine field, depending on one’s preference—with a whole range of genres to pick from. Just as enticing would be the entire range of now mostly lost regional cinema, a realm of practice that might help us acquire a better understanding not just of Manila-centered production but also of our neighboring countries’ own regional issues.[6]

11011A similarly ambitious film-research project, with its own canon as by-product, can be made of the hundreds of non-Filipino and non-Filipino-hyphenated (e.g. Fil-Am) productions, whether or not shot in the Philippines, that deal with the country in some way or other—as a nation’s or people’s name, as deliberate or accidental linguistic crutch, as anonymous or non-Filipino (especially Vietnam) locale, as overseas presences, or even just as a globally recognizable entity; a corollary, sadder but just as essential, would be studies of films that are lost, or practitioners who have died.[7] One final area worth exploring would be films that may be apparently mainstream feature releases, but which partake of certain marginalized qualities because of their subject matter: queer films, for example, or diasporic projects, or some other still-to-emerge specialized categories. Some of these groups have entries in the present canon list, but their modes of production, talent hierarchies, distribution strategies, and the audience responses they induce will need to be teased out as distinct phenomena vis-à-vis what passes for “regular” Philippine cinema.

11011One of the hopes I expressed when I conducted my earlier batch of canon projects during the early 1990s, including the ten-best films survey, was that the existence of sturdier, more credible options will satisfy the curiosity of critics and audiences and enable us to advance to the more urgent questions of how to achieve a presence in the global cultural community, or how to use popular culture to productively intervene in issues of national identity and development. That is, instead of obsessing over finalizing canons and revising them every so often, we might be able to begin with a fairly acceptable listing and simply keep adding to it as more significant films get released. However, as it turned out since then, even more award-giving groups were to be formed, several of them overlapping in functions, and more canon projects were conducted.

11011A stable system of canon-formation, if that can be achieved for Philippine film culture, will enable scholars and audiences to devote attention to the wider issues surrounding cinema, where the question of quality can be set aside whenever necessary. James F. English, whom I referenced earlier, provides no further assurance when he states, still in The Economy of Prestige, that “each new prize that fills a gap or void in the system of awards defines at the same time a lack that will justify and indeed produce another prize…. There are not only more prospective founders and sponsors of awards than ever before, but also, and less intuitively, more positions on the fields of culture where new prizes can be installed” (emphasis in the original). If any new canons that emerge after this project can claim the same qualities of patient and multiple re-screenings, earnest deliberations, informed rationales, and minimal reliance on institutional influences, then they might yield similar results. That prospect alone ought to suggest that, with a project such as the present one, the biggest future advantage might be an ironic in nature: our eventual liberation from obsessive canonizing, with a stronger interest in in-depth and non-comparative film criticism as an ideal by-product.

Postscript: Since this piece was drafted, the Covid-19 global health crisis intervened and made media streaming the only safe means of consumption for the general public for two years (and counting). A few short works premised on online interaction, mostly so-called Boys Love teleseries but also including the instant-classic Lola Doc (directed and performed by Nora Aunor from the short “monovlog” written by Layeta Bucoy), functioned as reflexive experiences, with actors directly addressing supposed webcam viewers. The claustrophobic effect of having the performer confined within a limited space, along with the frustration of lacking an audience to interact with, ensures that theater attendance will not be permanently supplanted by this particular new-media trend. But the middle way between movie-going and online learning is being claimed and redefined by the streaming—of media, not just of film.

11011It may be possible to stream a film-viewing audience as well, similar to how participants appear in Zoom classes; even more excitingly, the interactive aspects of live theater attendance (ritualistic call and response, for example, or maverick activities in cult screenings) may just be around the bend. And since digitalization lends itself to a level of flexibility whose fuller potential can be seen in the more advanced games that anticipate the just-announced metaverse, “film” as we know it will once more have to confront the question of whether the medium has ended, to make way for a further stage of development, or reiteration, or devolution.

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[1] Millennials whose familiarity with the Marcos family has been defined by the strong and affectionate alliance between Imelda and her daughter might be surprised to know that the two women used to have a conflictive relationship. Psychoanalysis would traditionally ascribe this to their competition for the attention of the patriarch, Ferdinand Sr. This division between mother and daughter would explain how artists—including progressive figures, initially led by Lino Brocka—gravitated toward the ECP after Imee succeeded in taking charge of the agency. It also lends credibility to the belief that Imee’s parents were responsible for the “kidnapping” and subsequent “rescue” of their daughter’s paramour Tommy Manotoc—a sportsman, identified with an opposition family, who had then just divorced his wife, 1970 Miss International Aurora Pijuan; the “Communist terrorists” allegedly responsible for the crime were of course killed, supposedly in a firefight with Manotoc’s rescuers.

[2] At that time a new buzzword, deconstruction is a philosophically prescribed critical procedure that attempts to uncover the possible hidden meaning(s) in a text, whether a written or uttered statement, an audiovisual presentation, or any seemingly innocuous cultural product. Based on the theoretical output of Jacques Derrida, among several other authors, it proceeds from the premise that certain individuals and institutions may have vested interests in maintaining or influencing power imbalances in their favor. In order to attain this condition, they create, promote, favor, and/or standardize texts that uphold their points of view. Popular culture is a productive area for deconstructive exercises, because the texts in this field have to address, and consequently uphold, the interests of the audience—which provides opportunities for certain texts to oppose, repress, or question the advocacies of the ruling class.

[3] I have written elsewhere about the MPP’s contribution to Philippine film awareness, as well as its limitations. Since my criticisms clustered around the group’s awards activities, most of the MPP officials tended to take offense and voiced their disapprobation in several outlets and forums. The positive lessons I learned from the MPP are the ones I recount in this article, techniques of viewing and comparative analyses that have proved useful in drawing up a film canon.

11011Re the awards (called the Urian), my remarks merely rounded up already existing comments from various sources, and cover three aspects. First, the Urian uses a form-vs.-content approach, with their best-film criterion stating: “In the case of two films which are equally well-made, the film with the more significant subject matter is to be preferred” (“MPP Criteria” in The Urian Anthology 1970-1979). This separation between technique and “subject matter” is in fact more useful for the film practitioner, rather than the critic; when the work is completed, form is inseparable from content, and the other dynamics—social, political, industrial, financial, global, etc.—that impact the film and influence people’s perceptions should become part of its evaluation. Second, the awards format is misleading because it makes people think that films, after their completion, can still be reduced to distinct categories such as technical, performative, and creative ones, when in fact the work is already functioning as an organic whole. Third, the awards activity’s effect belies its claim: it supposedly supports the community of film artists by recognizing their best output on a regular basis, but in practice, it always insists on singular winners in artificial categories, thus having a divisive effect on colleagues by forcing them to compete with one another and finding ways to lobby for their respective entries. As the present YES! canon listing implies, certain years may be more fruitful than others, while other years may yield no canon-worthy titles. The awards practice therefore of recognizing one film, or one practitioner, per year leads to the problematic impression that each year’s winner fulfills the Urian’s criteria and that all the annual winners are equivalent to one another.

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[4] This was intended to rectify the incognizance of individual rankings practiced by the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound survey of film critics, regarded as the definitive canon for global cinema and claimed, in a 2012 article by Michael Atkinson, as the originator of published film canons. The results have been announced decadally starting in 1952, with the next one expected around this time, in 2022. Vittorio de Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948) was the 1952 first-placer, with all the succeeding decades dominated by Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) except for the last: the 2012 top winner was Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Since 1992, film directors were also consulted, with the top results mirroring the critics’ choices except for 2012, when the directors selected Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953) as their all-time best. Final personal disclosure: I participated once, during the 2002 survey, and received responses from all over—including commentaries from the Observer, Slate magazine, and Roger Ebert—for my offbeat choices as well as my questioning of Citizen Kane’s worthiness.

[5] A series of mostly self-produced super-8mm. films by Noel F. Lim is still awaiting rediscovery, along with the short-film entries of various independent film festivals as well as those produced for the Cine Rehiyon festival of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts—not to mention the material commissioned by the hundreds of non-government organizations that proliferated since the collapse of the martial-law regime of Ferdinand E. Marcos.

[6] While the present canon project was fortunate enough to rediscover Leroy Salvador’s Badlis sa Kinabuhi (Hand of Fate, 1968), the impressive showing of contemporary digital-era regional cinema suggests that more celluloid samples of Cebuano movies should be unearthed, if they still exist. The reputed all-time best, Natalio Bacalso’s Salingsing sa Kasakit (Consequence of Pain, 1955) shares the same depressing fate of Gerardo de Leon’s Ang Daigdig ng mga Api (The World of the Oppressed, 1965), both masterpieces that in all likelihood have been lost to posterity. Even several other well-received entries by the likes of Emmanuel H. Borlaza, better known for his Manila-based work; Gene Labella, who never made films outside the region; Leroy Salvador, acknowledged in Manila as an actor; and Amado Cortez, remembered today as Gloria Sevilla’s husband—are nowhere to be found. Scholarly attention being paid to regional cinema would be better late than never, with Paul Grant and Misha Boris Anissimov’s 2016 volume Lilas: An Illustrated History of the Golden Ages of Cebuano Cinema (published by the University of San Carlos Press) as an outstanding sample of a pioneering study.

[7] Preliminary studies, with extensive listings, of non-Filipino productions dealing with the Philippines and/or Filipinos can be found in the “Media and the Diaspora” special issue, dated August 2014, of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication journal Plaridel, as well as in the “OFWs and Foreign Cinema” monograph of the August 2013/February 2014 issue of Ateneo de Manila University’s cultural studies journal Kritika Kultura. Clodualdo del Mundo Jr.’s Daigdig ng mga Api: Remembering a Lost Film (De La Salle University Press & Film Development Council of the Philippines, 2022) constitutes a valiant attempt at reconstructing a long-lost film classic based on the traces it left behind, while Pro Bernal Anti Bio (ABS-CBN Publishing, 2017), initiated by Ishmael Bernal, continued by Jorge Arago, and completed by Angela Stuart Santiago, may be the most impressive Filipino biography ever written.

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About Joel David

Teacher, scholar, & gadfly of film, media, & culture. [Photo of Kiehl courtesy of Danny Y. & Vanny P.] View all posts by Joel David

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